10 Tips for Surviving Workshops

So it’s workshop day.

You’re sitting in a room with a few other people who have read your work. You have their works buzzing around in your head. You have feedback prepped, but that’s not what you’re thinking about. You’re waiting for it to be your turn. You’ll read a small bit of your work out loud and then brace yourself for the comments. Maybe you’ve taken yourself a little too seriously, and you’re ready to shut down what others think. Maybe you’re a little shy of your work, and you’re worried this will be the day you quit writing forever. Here are a few tips on how to survive this scenario.

1. First of all, breathe.
Deep breaths. Don’t know how? Check out my article on anxiety. The workshop won’t be as bad as you think it will be, but it’s easy to get worked up over it. You need to be calm to handle feedback—positive and negative. There’s a mixture of excitement and dread that will fray your nerves, but just be calm. Once again, breathe.

2. Make sure you’re prepared.
Know exactly what you’re going to read out loud when it’s your turn. Maybe prep beforehand by reading the passage aloud to family or friends. Also, make sure to read the work of your peers. They’re just as interested in feedback as you, and there’s nothing worse than going to a workshop and receiving no comments whatsoever because your peers couldn’t be bothered to read your work.

3. Give the sort of feedback you want to receive.
So what are you hoping to receive? Detailed feedback? Perfect. Now be prepared to give detailed feedback to your peers. You’re all writers. All of you want to be able to publish your work eventually. If you give detailed criticism on the works of your peers, they will be much more likely to offer detailed feedback on your work.

4. Don’t be afraid to show a little envy.
Often there are moments where a peer’s sentence or idea just sounds perfect. Like, why didn’t you think of that? Own up to your envy, but be cautious on your approach. Don’t look for ways to tear down your peer. Instead, build him or her up. Turn your envy into something positive and compliment the things that you wish you’d thought of first. It keeps the mood of the workshop light, and your fellow writers will likely follow your example in building each other up.

5. Be silent when receiving feedback.
So now it’s your turn. It’s extremely important that you be silent when your peers are giving you feedback. Now isn’t the time to argue. It’s the time to really listen for the advice you need to make your work publishable. Limit your defenses and explanations. If you can, nix them altogether. If something wasn’t understood, it is your job to go and fix it instead of trying to explain it.

6. Take notes.
Workshop feedback is a very valuable resource, and often you’ll find yourself wondering what that one person said that really made you go, “Oh! I need to fix that!” Well, note-taking is your friend. Write down suggestions, questions, and anything else that will help you. A recording device can also come in handy, provided you have permission from your peers to use it.

7. Ask the right questions.
The right questions can be tricky. You might be tempted to ask what someone “liked” or “disliked.” Honestly, those won’t help you. The answers to these questions are often one-dimensional and lack any real criticism. Instead, ask about particular passages to see if they conveyed what you were hoping to convey. Ask if anything confused your peers. Ask if a particular character is fleshed out, your description brings your setting to life, or your conflict is obvious. Ask about the things that will improve the story, not how you feel about the story.

8. Feel free to laugh at yourself.
At some workshops, people will notice tiny, silly errors that may embarrass you. How did they slip by you? Instead of being mortified, rest assured that you are not alone. Everyone makes those embarrassing errors at one time or another. The best you can do is laugh it off and fix it. Never take yourself too seriously!

9. Take all criticism with a grain of salt.
Now, it is up to you to pick and choose what you want to change. You don’t have to change every little detail about your work. You don’t need to assume that making all of those changes will get the work published. Ultimately, it is up to you to sift through the criticism for the golden bits of advice that will further your career as a writer.

10. Feel free to reward yourself on a job well done.
You’ve survived workshop. Congratulations! Grab your favorite candy bar or rent a good movie and relax for a bit. You’ve earned it.

Workshop day doesn’t have to be a complete nightmare. I’d love to hear about your workshop experiences! Comment below with your experience, comments on the article, or questions. Keep writing!

About Mindful Writing

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

The cursor is blinking on your empty Word document. Or maybe the pencil is hovering above the blank page of a notebook. Maybe the pen is lingering over a scrap of a napkin or a receipt. You’ve almost caught the idea, but it’s dancing out of your reach and your fingers keep grabbing at the empty space it occupied only seconds before. So you open up social media. Or you close your notebook. Or that scrap of napkin or receipt finds itself on top of a heap of trash.

As writers, we all suffer from this occurrence. There’s always a moment we simply don’t know what to write. There’s plenty of reasons this happens. To name a few:

  • Lack of inspiration
  • School
  • Work
  • Lack of sleep
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Other mental illness

It’s almost guaranteed that at least one of these will take its toll on you at some point, and if not, something else will. That’s where I’d like to help.

This year, I went from writing 2,000 words a day to absolutely 0.

It seemed to happen overnight, but that’s not exactly true. I know it was a slow build. I can name my stressors easily: new house, getting engaged, my beloved dog passing away, training a new dog, starting college after a year-long hiatus, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, an episode of psychosis…

You get the point. I found myself staring at the blank page more times than I can count. On top of everything, good and bad, I found myself with another hurt. I “couldn’t” write. I “couldn’t” put words on a page. I set aside my completed novel rough draft, assured that I “couldn’t” edit. My dreams of being an author no longer seemed feasible. So at some point, I gave up. I told myself I “couldn’t.”

Then I did. I wrote short responses to creative writing prompts, a sequel to the rough draft I’d been working on, creative nonfiction essays. I went back to my rough draft and started to edit it once more. Yet none of these would’ve been possible without many other steps I took to be well. If I could explain them all in one short blog post, there probably wouldn’t be much of a point to this blog. I want to help others like me, whether their rut is simply writer’s block or a life-altering event. I want to provide hope for my fellow writers.

In this blog, you will find book suggestions, writing prompts, tips to combat stressors, how-to guides on writing, and personal notes on writing with mental illness. You are not alone in your struggles, no matter how big or small you think they are.

Currently, there are four other posts available for you to browse: a book suggestion post, twelve ways to decrease anxiety, ten tips for surviving workshops, and my recent experience at Meacham, a writer’s conference.

There will also be a monthly writing prompt that I will join you in writing on. Sometimes this will be a single word. Sometimes this will be a sentence or more. Write as little or as much as you want and feel free to share. Or don’t. It’s yours, after all.

November Writing Prompt: Pearls

Comments or questions are all appreciated! Keep writing!